Visiting the Mother Country
In case it has escaped your attention, it’s January - that month of the year that can drag inexorably as we leave Christmas behind and wait with bated breath to see what the new year might have in store for us. It has also become the time of year when we, Andrew and I, make one of our fairly rare excursions back to the UK to catch up with family and friends, and do whatever chores might need doing. It is also one way of breaking up the early part of the year, and we do our best to make it as enjoyable as possible.
It can be a little tricky returning to the UK, as we try to fit in as much as we can during the time we have. As we have family in both Scotland and England, and friends at various points in between, this can present a few logistical challenges. This year, one of the main chore-y aspects of the visit was to gather up the last remaining items of furniture we have in the UK, bring them all together and get them ready for a further journey down south to our new home. We had boxes of books tucked away in Andrew’s Father’s home, and we had been offered a collection of china plates and other sundry items. We also rather fancied acquiring a set of antlers for display in the new house, and managed to pick up three sets!
So, this year, we flew into Glasgow, picked up a trusty little van and set about gathering ‘stuff’. Along the way, the fundamental purpose behind our visits is always to catch up, as best we can, with family and friends, and these visits tend to be all too brief. One of the reasons for our move to Spain was to enable us to see more of friends and family, providing a beautiful place for them to come and visit with plenty of time to relax and really catch up. On our UK visits, we tend to snatch at a catch up as we probably spread ourselves too thinly over the course of a week.
We had a lovely time, as always, in Scotland, and after the first day the weather improved. We caught up with Andrew’s side of the family, I almost blew up the Aga in the Watson family home, we loaded boxes of books and got all the latest news. We leave, conscious of the fact that Andrew’s father, John, would always welcome a longer visit and we still do hope that we will see John out here again at some stage this year.
We broke our journey down south with an overnight stop in Derbyshire, at the fabulous home of one of Andrew’s closest family friends. They live in what was the home of the late Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, and on a crisp, chilly frosty day it really did provide a stark reminder of how beautiful the UK countryside is. In the morning of our departure for London, we set out across the parkland that rolls down to Chatsworth House, past herds of deer and through a silvered landscape that is as lovely as you are likely to see. Over the years I spent in various parts of the UK, living and working, the Derbyshire Peaks remain one of my favourite places, and I have very happy memories of a stunning dinner I once had, too many years ago, in a tiny restaurant in the small town of Matlock.
We left behind our gracious hosts and hope to see them here in Spain very soon. The pleasure of driving in the UK diminishes with every visit, and we are reminded constantly that this is one of the many reasons we left for a life in Spain. No matter when you set out, and no matter which main route you choose, the roads seem to be consistently filled with nose-to-tail traffic. We consider ourselves lucky that, this time, we didn’t run into any long stretches of road works or queues of traffic held up by an accident. The amount of freight on the UK’s roads is crippling the country and certainly takes away any joy associated with the journey through bucolic heartland. To drive in those conditions is stressful and tiring.
With our loaded van, we arrived at our storage facility in Enfield to add our latest acquisitions to those already stored here from our former home in Bermondsey. Our goods safely stowed in a plywood box, we dropped the van off in Euston and Uber-ed our way to our hotel in Blackfriars.
Our thoughts about London are complex and similar. This visit brought to mind the Wordsworth poem about London with which we were repeatedly bashed over the head at school, part of which reads:
Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
The weather was crystal clear, and there is no doubt that on such clear nights, the lights of London cast a spell. St Paul’s Cathedral, in particular, looked stunning and manages, still, to exude the robust and untouchable elegance of its blend of architectural inspirations despite the ever-emerging cocky aspirations of the gleaming neighbours, vying for attention in The City.
We met up with friends and my side of the family, dined with the children, visited my poor mother hidden away in her own little world in Hertfordshire and attended meetings. The tussle with our emotional attachment to London is always brought home when you realise how much everything costs. London is a stunning, exciting, vibrant, ever-changing city but everything is so expensive. On our last visit, I was so mortified by the cost of two Gins and Tonic that I proceeded to knock one of the glasses of extortionate liquid all over the table and onto the floor, with ne’er a drop passing my lips.
We had saved our last full day to have meetings and buy items that we wanted to get before returning home. Again, I was reminded that it takes an age to get anywhere in London if you do need to move from one area to another. I hate the tube, so avoid it like the plague, preferring to use the bus or Shanks’s Pony. However, having started our morning in Bloomsbury then walking across to Oxford Circus before getting a bus that was then diverted due to a gas leak, I realised that half my time had been spent transporting myself from one place to another. Staying in one area is lovely, and prior to our last day we had restricted our movements to the SouthBank, one of our favourite areas. That Monday morning, our last day, once again reminded us why we had decided to move to Spain. We saw grey-faced commuters on bikes, jostling for their space on the grid at traffic lights; we shuffled onto buses alongside coughing workers, all of whom looked less than overjoyed to be on their way to the office for another 45 hour working week. I think we both know that we would find it almost impossible to return to that way of life.
So, our relationship with London remains mixed. We loved visiting it again, and seeing it looking its wintery best. We always love seeing our family and friends, of course, and long to do more with our time in the city - going to the theatre, eating out every night, visiting galleries, all of London’s finest garb - but we’d be destitute if we were to fit it all in.
We are now back in our gorgeous Spanish village, in our cold and not-very-comfortable rented house. We woke this morning with the views blocked by low cloud, and the drizzly rain threatening to stay around all day. We left behind our lovely extended family variously at work, going about their daily business, facing their own challenges, in their own world in the care home. I think I speak for us both when I say that where we are now is our home, and we always leave the UK behind with a mix of happy memory, sadness, relief, excitement for future plans, love and undoubtedly lighter wallets.